Georgia: Travel During a Pandemic

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August 9th 2021
Published: January 6th 2022
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International travel has always been a game of give and take; a practice of tolerating in order to enjoy; and the art of sacrificing a bit in order to feed that internal hunger for adventure. I had accepted there would always be tedious, long expensive flights from where I lived—in the middle of a huge country—in order to see the world. I knew it would often take me an extra day to get somewhere and that added time would equate to added costs. I knew I would sacrifice sleep and leg room and comfort, but I also knew that once I got through that long slog, I would be knee-deep in the unequivocal bliss of adventure travel.

Those are the things I knew. I accepted them. I tolerated them. I worked with the hand I had been dealt. What I did not know was what that slog would look like, feel like or cost in the eye of the pandemic. Would it make this thing I felt intrinsically necessary a thing I could not stand any longer? Would it make it financially out of reach? Or, my greatest fear, would it make it impossible?

canceled trip after canceled trip and after rebooking trips to only cancel them again, I started to feel like Sisyphus pushing that rock up that never ending mountain. I started to wish that travel was just a hobby because you can change hobbies. You can outgrow hobbies. You can put hobbies on the shelf and not think about them for years. Unfortunately, international travel is so much more than a hobby. It is a soul replenishing, give your life meaning necessity for my very existence. Ugh, that is a lot and I don’t see myself outgrowing it anytime soon.

So we did what you do when you need something to survive. You jump in, manage the risks and make it through the slog.

The first thing I learned about travel during Covid was that you change the way you plan for, pay for and prepare for travel. There is no longer the opportunity to make long-term plans. There is no longer the luxury of having your heart set on a particular destination. And affordable air travel is a thing of the past, unless you are one of the lucky ones who can travel whenever
without considering work schedules or timeframes.

It took that first big overseas trip in the time of Covid to see what we were really up against and here are my random observations from a trip to the Republic of Georgia.

Like in other parts of the world, Covid in general, how to manage Covid and the very existence of vaccinations have all become politically charged in Georgia. Locals told us differing stories about whether or not the vaccine was available, how accessible it might be and whether or not their church supported them getting the vaccine. When we visited, only a small percentage of the country was vaccinated and it seemed Georgians were listening to their ministers and politicians about how to navigate the pandemic.

When in Tbilisi we experienced a large protest at a government building. The protestors caught the attention of the local media and large group
of police. The protestors were anti-vaccine and anti-masks.

To enter Georgia, we were not required to get tested because we were fully vaccinated, however the unknown of pandemic travel, the trauma of already canceling a planned trip days before rebooking this one and the confusing communications provided by the airlines, we chose to get tested prior to leaving. It was an exorbitantly expensive way to get peace of mind.

In order to return to the States, testing was required. The international travel industry has figured out how to make this a seamless endeavor for travelers. Our hotel contacted a company and had a representative come to our lobby. The tests were administered within minutes and shortly thereafter our hotel confirmed our test results, provided us with digital results and printed all of the documents necessary to fly home. This all cost about ten percent of what we paid at home to get a test to leave the country.

When we checked into our hotels and participated in the exercise of handing over our passports and documents, I also handed them our vaccination cards. With a gaping language barrier and a cultural difference, the cards were often looked at with quizzical expression. At one hotel, the attendant said, “What is this, your diplomat card?” I immediately set her straight with a simple, “yes” and a nod.

At The Museum Hotel in Tbilisi, we had to prove our vaccination status in order to stay and were required to provide our vaccination cards upon check in. Rarely did we need our cards for anything else. We certainly didn’t need them to enter restaurants or public venues.

As expected, the protocols and reactions to Covid varied greatly depending on where you were located. In the larger cities, such as Tbilisi, the protocols were posted and enforced. As you moved into more rural areas, you could basically act as though there was no pandemic at all. In the cities, the taxi drivers wore masks and the hotels expected patrons to have a mask on whenever in common areas.

Whether you found yourself in the bustling city or a rural village, there seemed to be one common protocol followed by everyone: rubber mats were at each entrance of any business, restaurant, hotel or public place and there was an expectation that anyone entering the building would wipe their feet on the mat. There were signs and posters and stickers on the doors reminding everyone to be sure to wipe their feet to stop the spread of Covid. It may have been the most interesting form of hygiene theater to date, but we dutifully wiped our feet as if we were coming in out of the mud.

Air Travel

Upon facing the fears of how travel may be effected by Covid, air travel was at the top of the list. Air travel already sucks, what is it going to look like now? I’m diligent, vaccinated and tested, but am I still putting myself and others at risk by indulging my intense desire for international travel? Would this new normal make air travel downright unbearable?

We flew to Georgia via Turkish Airlines and in our untrained opinion, felt as though they were taking all the measures possible to keep passengers safe. Upon boarding, passengers were given hygiene kits that included everything you would need to follow the hygiene habits that have been pounded into our brains over the last 18 months. The kits included two masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.

Passengers were instructed to put on a clean mask and change it every
four hours of travel.

The flight attendant crew had one extra team member whose sole purpose was to monitor the cleanliness of the plane and the compliance of the passengers.

Dr. Oz provided a special recorded message at the start of the flight informing all passengers of the measures taken by Turkish Airlines and the expectations for passengers.

Chicago ‘O Hare’s international terminal has never been an ideal place for any sort of layover, but Covid puts it’s inadequacies under a microscope. Security was understaffed to the point of not being able to honor TSA Pre lines or protocols and this lack of staffing may also have meant to a lack of customer service. That is my nice way of saying, no one seemed to be in a good mood.

O’Hare was also lacking in food service availability. There was one restaurant open for the entire terminal and the lounges were overbooked. The one lounge that wasn’t overbooked was so comically inept, I felt like we were in the middle of a prank. The only food was Ramen Noodles to be heated in the microwave or granola bars and when we decided to grab a can of soda, not only was it not cold, it was expired. I cannot make this up.

With vaccine and testing requirements, check-in and security was blessed with an extra layer of headaches and bureaucratic hoops. In addition to all of the typical measures of providing boarding passes, passports and visas, travelers had to produce acceptable vaccination cards and/or test results. The security to board our flights back to the United States was an exercise in patience and tolerance. We
had to show all of our documents at 6 different check points, including one stop where each person was searched and patted down.

Passengers were allowed to remove their masks only in order to eat and drink. I found myself eating more just to be mask free a little longer.

Anyone familiar with Turkish Airlines is probably aware that their flights are well run and have slight luxuries other airlines may not offer. However, their long international flights are always very warm. And by warm, I mean the inner circles of hell hot. I am a person who typically runs cold, but Turkish Airlines flights out of the US can make me feel like I am fully clothed in a crowded 10 hour sauna session. Let’s just say, adding masks to that equation is a true practice in tolerance.

*For more stories and photos about our travels, please follow along on Facebook at Valeri Crenshaw and on Instagram at Valerispassport!***

Additional photos below
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7th January 2022

Thanks for posting...
I've postponed my flight to Scotland from Aug 2020 to June 2021 to Aug 2021, and now to Aug 2022. I'm waiting for all the covid over re-actions to settle down to minimize not only the situations you mention, but also many closures of places I want to visit. The summer of 2021 Scotland was very crowded due to British citizens not being able to travel to the EU, so traveling within the UK.
7th January 2022

Whoops....hit enter too soon.
Really liked your comment "So we did what you do when you need something to survive. You jump in, manage the risks and make it through the slog." It's a new world now, but we travelers will simply adapt. More hassles perhaps, but you cannot deter us from our travel!

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